Thanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities

Thanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities are always a fun way to teach American culture. But Thanksgiving lessons also raise timeless themes such as gratitude, types of food, and how we celebrate holidays in general. Plus, it’s nice to pop in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving sometimes and have some fun! So here’s some links to some of my most popular Thanksgiving activities and lesson plans.

Thanksgiving Day Lesson Plans and Activities for ESL, EFL, ELA Classes on Teachers Pay TeachersThanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities


  •  A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving lesson plan is another great activity. The video does a great job of introducing the pilgrims and the Native Americans and the first thanksgiving. It also depicts the religious side of this holiday and the turkey and mashed potatoes. Even the football game is mentioned! You can also have fun introducing the Peanuts characters and running gags. Linus’ blanket, Sally’s crush on Linus, and Lucy always pulling away that football all are here.  There are a number of comprehension questions for students to answer as they watch. There’s also a guide for teachers that breaks the movie into scenes. For each scene, there’s some key vocabulary, major themes, and a summary of the action. You can use it to break the viewing into parts. Or to pre-teach some vocab you think students might need to know. Or ask students to make their own outline of the video and then compare it to your outline.
  • The Missing Mashed Potatoes. This is a clue by clue critical thinking mystery puzzle with a Thanksgiving theme. Maybe you had a favorite dish that you only ate on holidays. And everybody fought to get more than anyone else. In my family, it was the mashed potatoes. That’s what led me to write this mystery where students have to follow the clues to figure out who ate all the mashed potatoes!
  • Looking for a quick warm-up for your Thanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities? The Thanksgiving Word Association Brainstorm is exactly what it sounds like: A worksheet that asks students to name 5 things they associate with Thanksgiving. It’s a simple activity, but powerful. You can elicit vocabulary, use their answers as discussion prompts, discover misunderstandings your students have, create a word cloud, or ask students to share the reasons for their associations!
  • Word Processing Skills Thanksgiving Day Edition is a fun activity that teaches students basic word processing skills. Students are given a text and rules on how to manipulate that text. In the process, they uncover a mystery message. This one is all about thankfulness! Tired of students that don’t know how to copy-and-paste? Want to make sure they know how to format in 12-point Times New Roman? Try this fun activity out.

FoodThanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities

  • The Food and Holidays Lesson Plan gives students a chance to talk about their national food, then gives you a chance to discuss Thanksgiving and the traditional foods we eat on that holiday. Finally students get talk about their special holiday meals. It’s a great way to approach Thanksgiving with international students. They may not know a lot about this primarily American holiday, but they do know how to talk about food. It’s also a topic that is accessible to advanced, intermediate and beginner students.
  • One part of the Food and Holidays Lesson Plan is the food and adjectives worksheet. In fact, I’ve designed it in two different ways:  a Food and Adjectives Chart where students fill in words to describe tastes, ways of cooking, ways to describe food.
  • For less advanced students, there’s also a Food Adjectives Cloze Worksheet that gives some more support in the form of sample vocabulary and sentence frames. Students can also graduate from this scaffolded version to the more open Food and Adjectives Chart.

The Gift of the Magi Lesson Plan

watch-iconThis The Gift of the Magi lesson plan packet has taken me years to compile!

“The Gift of the Magi” is without a doubt one of my favorite short stories, especially for the Christmas season. I’ve been teaching it to my students for years, and now I’ve compiled 15 different “The Gift of the Magi” lesson plans, activities, and resources for you. It’s 108 pages of activities, handouts and worksheets that cover vocabulary, irony, the moral of the story, character analysis, close reading, critical reading skills, and a lot more. The packet even includes some assessment materials. Each resource comes with comprehensive teacher notes and answer keys.

Isn’t “The Gift of the Magi” Too Difficult for ESL Students?

The story itself is actually very simple:

hair-comb1A husband and wife are very much in love with each other. The wife has very beautiful hair that she loves very much. The husband has a pocket watch that he loves very much. They want to buy very nice Christmas presents for each other, but they don’t have much money. So, the wife sells her hair to get money. and buys a chain for the watch. Unfortunately, the husband sells his watch to buy the woman beautiful combs for her hair. Each one gives up the thing they love for the other one. While tragic, the story proves that the couple love each more than anything.

It’s a beautiful and touching story, a perfect example of how situational irony can work. But we don’t often do it in class, because it’s a difficult story. But it’s difficult for only two reasons, both of which I’ve addressed in my packet.:

  1. The references: There are references to things that may be unfamiliar to a modern-day student, especially one from another country. There are also allusions to the Bible and other sources in the story that students may not be familiar with. That’s why I’ve provided a lightly graded text with footnotes to explain the more obscure references and early 20th century items. This lesson pack also includes warm-up activities to get at the main theme and explain the references to the magi.
  2. The vocabulary: Let’s face it. O. Henry was a wordsmith and this story has a lot of words that are off the 200 most frequently used lists and the AWL. That’s why I’ve included:
  • A master list of those hard words for your reference.
  • More importantly, a fun quick vocab match to teach hair comb, pocket watch, watch chain, and gift.
  • There’s also an extensive vocabulary learning lesson plan which focuses on 24 words that students may not know, but which are fairly easy to explain, such as butcher and howl and platinum. Students use social learning methods to learn the meanings and then do a series of flashcard games to review them.
  • There’s also a lesson plan on predicting the meaning of difficult words in context, including figuring out how much you need to know about a word to follow the story. Keep students from looking up every single word they don’t know!
  • Finally a critical reading skills lesson models reading for the gist, focusing on words you do know and grasping the main idea without knowing every word.

Continue reading “The Gift of the Magi Lesson Plan”

Parallel Structure

This lesson plan helps students discover and notice parallel structure in phrases and then use it particularly with correlative conjunctions such as both, either, neither and not only…but also. Because this is a pretty straightforward point that students need to practice more than anything else, this is pretty practice heavy with lots of activities and games.


Students will be able to write more effective sentences.


  • Students will be able to use parallel structure correctly at the word, phrase and clause levels.
  • Students will practice using correlative conjunctions.


Warm Up

This is taken from Fun with Grammar by Sue Woodward (or download it chapter by chapter free here). Break students into pairs. Give partner A a piece of paper that says: My father is tall, kind, and intelligent. Give partner B a piece of paper that says: My father is tall, does kind things and his intelligence is high. Give them one minute to memorize the sentence. Then have them turn the paper over or scrunch it up and tell their partner the sentence.

In general, partners A will find it easier. Ask them why it was easy to remember the sentence. You’ll probably get that it was short and that the words were similar. Tell them that sentence A was written in parallel structure and that it makes their writing easier to remember and easier to understand!


Hand out the Parallelism Discovery Activity to the groups (or let them get into double pairs). Let them look at the examples of parallel structure and note that the sentences on the left are parallel. They are also easier to understand and sound nicer. It’s worth going over this and showing them how they are parallel. I like to put the sentences on the board or on a projector and elicit the parts of speech so students get it.

Points to emphasize:

  1. We use it with conjunctions: AND, BUT, OR, NOT and EITHER..OR, BOTH..AND, NEITHER..NOR, NOT ONLY…BUT ALSO or any place we are making a list.
  2. There is no right answer as to which form to use: I like to swim and sail is just as good as I like swimming and sailing.
  3. Anything that follows the coordinating conjunctions should be parallel Either X or X.
  4. Formal English is concise. Elminate as many words as possible.
  5. Parallelism is a stylistic thing, not a grammar thing. In other words, it’s not WRONG not to use it but it makes their writing and speaking better.


I like this online quiz if your workbook doesn’t have a similar basic highly controlled practice. Then I like to pull out the Complicated Parallel Practice and do a few as a class. These are more complicated sentences than I like ice cream, but I find that can help build confidence.

Depending on how it is going, I might give them the  Either…Or Discovery to emphasize the point. And then tell them the principles remain the same for Neither…Nor, Both…and, and Not only…But also. Except for verb agreement–Both…And is always plural. I then give them the Either…Or/Neither..Nor Cards and have them create sentences in groups for each card. To review, have each group write two sentences on the board and go over the sentences as a class–anonymously, of course.

Not Only…But Also

I like to go over this construction separately as students are often confused by it. I start by putting up these sentences on the board. I ask students what they mean and elicit that it means both are true. I then point out that there is a nuance. What follows not only is something expected or something good. What follows but also is amazing!

  • My father not only cooks well but he also owns a French restaurant!
  • Mohammed owns not only one Mustang but also three Ferraris!
  • Learning English is not only fun, but also useful for work!

As a class, go over why the second part is more exciting or amazing than the first part and underline the parallel structures.

Then put up on the board: I like coffee. I like tea.

As a class, turn it into a sentence with Not only…but also.

Then do the same with: Xiang hasn’t been studying. He hasn’t been working!

Sentence Auction

Finally I do the  Sentence Auction: Parallel Structure as a fun review.

Students are put into pairs.

They write 5 sentences, one each with “either or” “neither nor” “not only but also” “both and” AND parallel structure.

There should be 3 sentences with a mistake! On purpose!

This will produce 5 sentences per every two students or 2.5 sentences per student.

Take the 20 best ones and put them in random order on a sheet of paper. Hand out to students in groups.

Students will bid on the sentences. The team that buys the most correct sentences and the fewest incorrect sentences wins.

Students have $200 to spend and all spending is in increments of ten.
Remind students that in an auction you can trick the other students into buying bad sentences by bidding on them.

Ties are determined by who has the most money left over!

First Conditional Lesson

Reaching for the Stars

This is also another 30 Goals post: Goal 7: Share a Lesson. I kinda sorta already did that with an old lesson plan but here’s a new one I wrote and taught for my MA TESOL program. I’m sharing it to get feedback on it, as always. The lesson is not very flashy or creative. The goal of the assignment was to sort of focus on grammar sequencing, moving from controlled to guided to free activities. I also wanted to incorporate more noticing into the lesson because I think that’s really important. So here is a simple, 90-odd minute long lesson plan for upper beginners or lower intermediates which I hope is also a frame for other grammar lesson plas:

 First Conditional Lesson Plan

Design Your Living Room

This lesson teaches or reviews the names of living room furniture by getting students to design their perfect living room. It could easily be adapted to other rooms in the house as well.


Warm Up

Either print out the Living Room Furniture Quiz or have students take it online. Make sure they know the vocabulary of living room furniture. Activate vocabulary by asking them what other items they have in their living room.

Let’s Go Shopping

Now hand out the Living Room Floor Plan [PDF] and have students add a door (1 meter wide) and 3 windows (1/2 meter wide each) to the plan anywhere they want. Make sure they understand the scale, that each dotted line is 1 meter. This is important because it puts realistic limits on how they furnish the room. You can’t put a bookcase in front of a window, or the TV in the door.

Once students have done that tell them they have $450 to spend to furnish the living room. They should use the Price List which also tells them how big each piece of furniture is. You may also want to redo the prices in your home currency or make them realistic for where you live. You also might want to add items that are common in your country, or take away items that are not common.

When they are finished, each student can present his living room to the other students and explain his choices.

Alternatively, you could now practice vocabulary and prepositions by having students describe their living room to a partner. The partner should try to draw the living room without looking at the picture. After one partner has described and the other has drawn the room, they should switch.This will give students a chance to practice the names of furniture and also prepositions like, “next to”, “on the right”, “in the middle”, “on the wall.” In fact you may want to give them this language first, using one of the students’ drawing as an example. Another variation, which gives you more control would be to have a few students describe their living room to the entire class and everyone draws it. That allows you to catch mistakes as they happen.

You can also practice comparing and contrasting language by having students compare their living rooms. For example:
“I put the sofa in the corner.”
“Well, I put MY sofa in the middle of the wall”
“My TV is across from the armchair.”
“My TV is next to the armchair.”
Students then report back: “My sofa is in the corner but his sofa is in the middle of the wall.”

New York Times Lesson Plans for September 11th

The New York Times has a nice set of lesson plans on 9/11 including social effects and the war in Afghanistan. I really liked the first lesson. These are mostly for advanced students and are pretty heavily biased toward reading and analyzing readings, obviously.

More Inspiration: A Good Course is…

Following up on Goal 5, I found this gem in the book I’m currently reading, Tessa Woodward, Planning Lessons and Courses from Cambridge University Press, 2001.

I’ll state my own criteria for a good language course or lesson now. A good lesson or course, to me, is one where there’s plenty of language learning going on and where the students and I:

  • feel comfortable physically, socially and psychologically
  • know a little about each other, why we are together and what we want to get out of the experience. (We also know these things may keep shifting slightly as we go through the course.)
  • are aware of some of what there is to learn
  • are aware of some of the things we have learned
  • have a notion about how we learn best
  • accept that language is a mixture of things (part instinct, motor skill, system, cultural artefact, music, part vehicle for content and part content itself), that it changes all the time and thus that we need to teach and learn it in a variety of ways
  • know why we’re doing the activities we’re doing
  • do things in class that would be worth doing and learn things that are worth learning for their own sake outside the language classroom
  • become more capable of taking the initiative, making decisions and judging what is good and useful
  • start useful habits which will continue after we have left each other
  • follow our course and lesson plans or depart from them when necessary in order to bring about the criteria above.

These are some of the things that are necessary for me to consider a course or lesson good, for me to consider my work good!

I couldn’t agree more. I particularly like the stress on making students aware themselves of how they learn and why classroom time is spent the way it is.